As for these things … (Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost)

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There’s this guy that some of you may have heard of… his name is Elon Musk. Just in case someone out there doesn’t know, he’s the techno-geek, engineer, entrepreneur architect of Tesla, which is a cool car company. Cars aren’t really my thing, which is testified to by the Chevy Traverse I drive, but I hear they are cool cars. He’s also the man behind SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturing company, whose goal is to send people to Mars by 2024 (and cargo to Mars by 2022). He’s quite the visionary. Here are some of his words about traveling to Mars:

“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

Inspiring words.
I mean, even if you don’t want a permanent change of address, you can’t help but be in awe of his confidence, ingenuity, and his trailblazer ways.

Especially when you compare them to Jesus’ words today:
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”

Give me Elon’s words over Jesus’ any day, because I do want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great, basking beneath the stars, going on an adventure. And maybe that is what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. The problem is, it doesn’t seem to be what being an earthfaring, Jesus-following civilization is all about.

Their words paired together create an uncomfortable dichotomy, but one that illustrates life so well. Elon’s words are the kind that make me dizzy with dreams, believe in the future, and make my heart soar. Whereas Jesus’ words to us today shrink my heart, tie my stomach in knots, and terrify my soul. I feel like the stars are falling to earth, rather than hanging as points of hope in the night sky.

I think we all know that feeling of helplessness; the fear of the collapse of goodness; the pervasiveness of deep distress within the world. It is the contrast drum accompanying our days. War and violence occupy every inch of the world; we have gotten used to death tolls and natural disasters that should take our breath away; children die from disease and poverty; gangs, guns, and drugs are used as a panacea just to survive; suicide and depression are at all-time highs; hate has become commonplace. And all of those hardly touch the sharp edges which shape our own personal lives.

I don’t really need or want Jesus to shine a bright spotlight on the rubble and fragility of life. The carefully airbrushed facades give me the illusion that the world is spinning nicely. Why does he have to toss it in my face?

I’ll tell you the thing that really confounds my heart about not only this passage, but when I realize that it illustrates the hardness of life…

I start wondering where God has gone. Maybe God had something important to do in some other corner of the universe and forgot about us here, or just got tired of bailing us out, and this is their warning to us that they’ve decided to let the human experiment come to an end.

Heck. Maybe God’s in cahoots with Elon Musk.
Maybe… but only in so much that God’s in cahoots with all of us.

Basically, God’s a straight-shooter. Jesus isn’t trying to be cruel when he says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” He is simply telling them – telling us – the truth. That some of the things we hold most dear will fall apart.

Thanks, I guess…?

Actually, I do need Jesus’ words. I do need to hear the truth, even when it’s almost intolerable, because barring an escape pod showing up to whisk me off to Mars, this is where I’m living; this is the place God created; this is… IT. I mean, sure, there are more planets, more universes, more possibilities. But, not right now.
Right now, this is IT.
This broken world is what we’ve got.
But, this broken world is also full of God’s grace and love and goodness.

Elon’s reasoning for heading off into space is based upon what he sees happening around him. He sees a place falling apart that’s beyond redemption. He doesn’t see a bright future here. He needs to go someplace else to find hope.

Now, most of us can’t afford Elon’s way out. $200,000 per ticket might be doable for some, but it also comes with the hefty price of likely never returning to Earth and living inside a bubble colony. Jesus knows it’s gonna be super tempting to blast off into space and leave all this behind, because this place is falling apart.

It’s easy to read the signs of the times as signs of God’s absence, but according to Luke’s Gospel they are not signs of God’s absence, but rather sure and certain signs of God’s presence. Which also confounds the heart.

So, while Elon Musk’s desire of starting over someplace else has a certain draw, it’s not the course of action Jesus recommends. In fact, Jesus warns against it. “Beware that you are not led astray,” he tells those gathered around him; “for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he! And the time is near!’ Do not go after them.”

Do not go after them? When the sky is falling, do not be terrified?
No space pod for me, I guess.

See, the key difference is this: Instead of wanting OUT; Jesus is ALL IN.
Jesus sees a place that is falling apart too. But Jesus sees a place that ISN’T beyond redemption. And Jesus DOES see a glorious future here. In fact, Jesus sees this place becoming just like heaven. So, if you really have that desire to bask among the stars, it seems that’s Jesus’ dream for this place too.

What you see is determined by what you have chosen to see. Which sounds a little obvious. Like, some naive half-full glass kind of philosophy. This isn’t what I mean. However, it is true that how we see things, influences what we see and what we say, and therefore how we live.

In other words, even though Jesus and his followers look at the same temple, they do not see the same thing. While the disciples saw beauty and hope in the temple and the man-made things before them, Jesus saw beauty and hope in the God-made things before him:
The disciples.
You and me.
Humanity itself.

“As for these things you see,” Jesus says.
These things we see…
Do we see a place to leave behind, a place with no hope, a desolate planet to be recalled in a future Star Wars movie that’s become inhabited by the Sith Lords?

Or, are we willing to sit with the fact that things fall apart?  (Things I love, things I built, things I cried and prayed and strived for?) Can we see place where God is present and among the ruins, a place brimming with tiny tendrils of hope that need tender care? A place where hope doesn’t lie out beyond the stars, but rather in the sparkle of the one sitting next to you.

The question may not be, what do you see? But, rather, who do you see?

Because seeing one another, holding on to one another, trusting that there is more, believing it’s not the end, that is how we know that God is still with us. Come earthquakes, come famines, come plagues, come death, come great signs from heaven, we are to hold on to one another.

We are to endure, because holding on to one another is how we hold on to Jesus. The heavenly song we join – even with faltering voices and broken melodies – is one that has echoed throughout the universe since God flung the stars in their places. God presides over the day and the night, both light and dark are alike to them. That at the break of day loving mercy will override horror, and hope will break forth in human flesh. God comes among us to exactly where we are.

Elon, I can think of something more exciting than heading off into space. Staying right here with Jesus and creating heaven out of stardust. Amen.